Q: What is Sunshine Week?
A: Open government is good government. Sunshine Week celebrates transparency and why it’s important to our system of self-government and U.S. economy. Transparency brings accountability. Throughout my service representing Iowans in the U.S. Senate, I’ve led a legislative and oversight crusade to root out fraud, waste and wrongdoing by sharpening sunshine laws to help sweep out cobwebs of corruption and misconduct. As a watchdog for good government, I work to stop bad actors from hitching their wagon to the federal government’s gravy train or taking unfair advantage in the marketplace through murky pricing regimes. More on that below.
During my first term in the U.S. Senate, I sunk my teeth into wasteful spending at the Pentagon. I joined forces with Rep. Howard Berman of California to steer a bipartisan, bicameral anti-fraud bill through Congress. We revived a law enacted on March 2, 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln to stop corrupt contractors during the Civil War. Honest Abe understood he needed more eyes and ears on the ground to report war profiteers who were shilling shoddy horses that couldn’t walk, selling guns that wouldn’t fire and peddling bags of ammunition that were filled with sawdust, not gunpowder. The law was based on qui tam actions, a tool of accountability dating back to the Middle Ages in England. It means “he who sues for the king in this matter sues for himself as well.” Our updates empowered 20th century whistleblowers to bring lawsuits against alleged fraudsters on behalf of the federal government and share in a percentage of the recoveries collected on behalf of the American people. To this day, my amendments to the False Claims Act enable 21st century citizens to speak truth to power and are credited with more than two-thirds of the $70 billion returned to the federal treasury. By stepping forward, these patriots protect public health, public safety and taxpayer dollars. It takes a lot of guts to stick one’s neck out to report fraud. That’s why I champion protections for whistleblowers who risk their livelihoods and reputations for telling the truth. Although my whistleblower updates took aim at Pentagon price gougers fleecing taxpayers and compromising military readiness and troop safety, my qui tam provisions have become the government’s #1 tool against all types of fraud. In fact, this law and similar ones I’ve championed help ferret out schemes to siphon tax dollars from health care programs by overbilling, upcoding and kickbacks; illegally marketing pharmaceuticals; falsely laying claim to farm, natural disaster or veterans programs; mortgage fraud; securities fraud, such as money laundering or insider trading; and more. I’m also working to beef up the IRS Whistleblower Awards Program that helps collect taxes owed from tax cheats and keep would-be tax dodgers compliant. As long as I’m in the U.S. Senate, I’ll keep the welcome mat rolled out for whistleblowers to help root out wrongdoing.
Q: What sunshine measures are you pushing to help Iowa patients, consumers and farmers?
A: As Iowa farmers know, the list of chores is never-ending and requires hard work to get the job done. That’s how I approach my work on behalf of Iowans. It takes tenacity to break bureaucratic inertia and vigilance to ensure the laws are enacted as Congress intended. And if the laws aren’t working, I work to put teeth in them. Consider the nation’s drug pricing regime. When I chaired the Senate Finance Committee, I advanced a bipartisan prescription drug pricing bill to help cut drug prices especially for seniors. In my fact-finding effort to drill down on the skyrocketing prices consumers are paying for the same drug from one year to the next, I called in the heads of the largest pharmaceutical companies in America to testify on drug pricing. Then, I held a hearing with the so-called middlemen in the industry, the executives from major Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) to testify how the pricing system works among insurers, pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies. One theme became crystal clear: The nation’s drug pricing system is as clear as mud. Iowans are fed up with the soaring prices they pay for their medicine. We need transparency to shed light on the flow of money in the prescription drug marketplace. Recent consolidations between PBMs and insurance providers have resulted in vertical integration enabling a small number of companies to manage the vast majority of prescription drug benefits. I’m urging the Federal Trade Commission to end the stalemate and examine bipartisan concerns about competitive harms that might be driving up prices for consumers. My two-year bipartisan investigation into insulin prices exposed detrimental business practices and anti-competitive relationships between manufacturers and PBMs, causing a vicious cycle of price increases. The FTC needs to do its job. In the meantime, I’m pushing to get my bipartisan drug pricing reforms enacted into law. Transparency brings accountability and fosters competition.
Likewise, I’m pushing my Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act to give independent cattle feeders a fair shake in the marketplace. Similar to my drug reform bill, my cattle bill doesn’t mandate prices; it would improve competition in the consolidated packing industry by requiring the Big Four packers to buy a minimum percentage of their cattle through negotiation and report more information about what they pay for beef. Letting sunshine cut through the cloudy pricing process would help level the playing field between contracted feedlots and independent producers. As inflation takes a bigger cut of household budgets, my cattle market transparency bill would also help consumers from getting squeezed at the grocery store.
Sunshine Week is observed March 13-19, 2022, celebrated during the anniversary of the birth of James Madison, the nation’s fourth president and “Father of the Constitution” who authored the Bill of Rights, enshrining freedoms of religion, speech and press in the First Amendment.